Protest in Budapest

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They were typical political lies, but he got caught and a number of Hungarians believe he should resign. When the news broke in September, some believed this so vehemently that they took to rioting in Budapest.

After three days the riots were thwarted, but the angry citizens, mostly right wingers, weren’t done fighting for their right to party with a new prime minister. On Monday they took to turning this years’ 50th celebration into a violent protest.

Large groups gathered throughout the day on the main throughways and in front of government buildings. By mid afternoon there were people everywhere; streets were literally jammed. I was driving around looking for a parking spot and more than half the main arteries in the center were no longer passable. At that time I didn’t know anyone was upset about anything. I thought everyone was celebrating.

Desiree and I sat down by the window in a café at around 4 o’clock on Monday. I logged onto the internet while we were waiting for our food and started reading about the day’s events in Budapest. Literally a few minutes after I learned about the protests and the tear gas and rubber bullets being shot off a few blocks away, a stampede of people came storming by the café window. People of all ages had rags held against their faces, coughing and wiping their eyes. I went outside to grab some photos, which without a flash was difficult and I nearly bumped into an old couple in their late 60’s choking on tear gas.

Back in the café, a tall guy toting a professional digital video camera and an American accent sat down at the table next to us.

“I’ll have the duck!” the guy said to his waiter while squeezing his swollen eyes.

During the day it was a confusing scene, because many were simply celebrating; carrying flags with a hole cut out of the center. This was to remember ‘56 when students cut the communist symbol out of their flag. However, many protestors carried this same flag to reflect on their current motive; drawing a weak parallel between their prime minister and a communist takeover.

As the day dragged on, those celebrating went home and those protesting multiplied. Most were peaceful, but a surprisingly large number of people, predominately shaved head, bandana faced, black booted kids, carried the butchered flag in one hand and a brick or molotov cocktail in the other.

The American guy in the café was William, an independent animator from New York who we got to know. He told us he was at the protest hoping to get some of the right wing’s view on the whole thing. He said the protesters had been simply chanting, demanding their views, when the cops, unprovoked, started launching tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd.

We walked with William from the café back to his apartment in Budapest to hang out until things on the streets cooled down. At one point our walk turned to a jog, because the massive, but quite crowd we were passing through had suddenly exploded into a chant that rocked the ground and echoed through the tunnels made by old buildings and a black, starless sky.

A block away we found ourselves on a street where people ate and drank wine at outdoor tables. Classical music played just loud enough to drown out the angry sounds of their fellow Hungarians. It was business as usual only one street from what I know people at home would have seen on their TV as a city in all out war.

“That’s how the whole world works,” said Desiree.

Later Monday night, when the police had dispersed most of the crowds, Desiree and I joined William for a walk to the outskirts of the last group of protestors. Then William took it up a few notches and walked straight into the action; again!

We basically stood around for a few hours as people chatted in Hungarian about their prime minister, political philosophy and the weather. A left wing news crew was doing a live broadcast when a group of masked kids started shouting things and throwing bottles at the reporter, one hitting him square in the head. We stood at the end of the crowd, by a side street where we could make an easy getaway should the police start dispersing this protestors.

I had one shaved headed kid come up to me yelling “Clear! Clear! Clear!” and pointing at my camera. I hadn’t even taken a picture of him. He relaxed once I showed him my images. Another kid, hooded with his face masked below the eyes, stood tossing a rock up and down as if preparing for a pitch.

Something about anonymity irks me. If you are willing to throw a brick at someone or tear down a flag pole because you believe so strongly in your ideal, then I figure you should be willing to accept the consequences of your actions. For me, the masks took away any element of bravery and belittled these protestors to punk idealists flailing their violent aggression.

By one AM, half the protestors had gotten tired and left, so we did too.

The hard core activists stayed of course. They had even built a makeshift barricade to match the thick line of cops about 100 yards away. The scene was that of a civil war battle, two sides lined and facing each other, waiting for a reason to charge with their flags and horses.

The protestors waited for the cops and the cops waited for their bulldozer, which arrived shortly after we left. It was good we left, because the tired police really let them have it.

As soon as we got back to the apartment, we flicked on the TV and watched exploding canons launch streams of tear gas canisters and blue liquid into the crowd, a bulldozer charge through the barricade and cops on foot with shields and batons beat in the heads of people lying on the ground in a fettle position.

I don’t want to demean a people’s political activism, but I am anti-violence as a means to achieve political change. The hardcore protestors were too aggressive and probably hurt their cause more than helped it. The cops used excessive force too, as is the case when you mix fear with aged policing policies.

Both sides left me with an impression of how far Hungary has yet to come in her mind and manor before sitting at the same table as her brothers and sisters to the West.

5 Thoughts on “Protest in Budapest”

  1. Dad Says:

    I wish you would stay clear of those areas or protest but it must havr been exciting ti be around there. By the way you spelled malt coctail wrong. It’s malakoff cocktail
    Love you

  2. UT Says:

    The atmosphere must be electric. Freakin’ hooligan skinheads screw up all the fun for everyone.
    Your dad can’t spell!

  3. Dave Says:

    Hey John,

    Sounds like being in Beantown when the Sox won the pennant….were they maybe chanting, “Let’s go Red Sox”. Were you worried that your van might get rolled and burned? Some of your best real footage to date. Be Safe! Dave H

  4. kevin Says:

    and here I am thinking it is spelt molotov

    either way…i am glad you are well. Love the photos your words.


  5. JP Morgan Jr Says:

    Thanks for the spelling corrections everyone, but it really was malt off cocktails they were carrying. Very tasty.

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